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What The Hell Happened With Ben Roethlisberger On Sunday?

Illustration for article titled What The Hell Happened With Ben Roethlisberger On Sunday?
Photo: Matthew Stockman (Getty)

Sunday’s loss to the Tankin’ Grudens has sent Yinzer Nation into a full-on panic. The Steelers are still in first place in the AFC North, but they’re only a half-game up on the Ravens and they’ve lost three straight after a 7-2-1 start, with the Patriots and Saints up next. But what’s had every Greg in Wexford frantically dialing every sports-talk show in Western Pennsylvania the last two days is the following question: Why was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who injured his ribs shortly before halftime, held out until 5:20 remained in the fourth quarter and the Steelers had fallen behind? According to the Steelers, it’s because the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum’s X-ray machine is an antiquated piece of shit.

At least that’s the story Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin told today. In the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s game, per The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly, they both said something quite different:

“I was just waiting for the coach to tell me when to go,” Roethlisberger said.


“You know, he got looked at halftime, and he got treatment, and he came back out,” Tomlin said. “We were waiting to see if he was going to be able to come back in and he was. (He) probably could’ve come in a series or two but we were in a rhythm and the flow of the game …”


Naturally, these comments didn’t go over too well. If what Roethlisberger and Tomlin said there was true—that Roethlisberger was ready to go back in but Tomlin opted to keep his franchise QB on the sideline because of, well, who the hell really knows—it was coaching malpractice. Why wait so long when Roethlisberger’s replacement, Joshua Dobbs, played four series in which he either turned the ball over or constantly seemed to be about to? Did the Steelers think they could just coast by counting on Dobbs and their (LOL) defense to win the game? Once Roethlisberger actually returned, he promptly went 6-for-6 and engineered a touchdown drive that (briefly) gave the Steelers the lead. (Now, another theory that went around is that it was Roethlisberger, not Tomlin, who initially elected not to return to the game, at least until the Steelers fell behind. Again, though: Why? Was Roethlisberger still hurt and exercising some agency over his health?) If you’re still with me at this point, good—I’m finally about to get to Oakland’s allegedly bum-ass X-ray machine.

In separate interviews today, both Roethlisberger and Tomlin explained Roethlisberger’s prolonged absence by saying the X-ray machine at the Raiders’ stadium could not give anyone on the Steelers an adequate reading on the extent of Roethlisberger’s injury. Roethlisberger had been given an X-ray at halftime, and the possibility of one or more broken ribs raises the possibility of a punctured lung, so some amount of caution was in order.

“We got the result of the X-rays, they weren’t readable,” Tomlin said during a press conference. “It was into the third quarter by the time we got to the logistics of actually even getting the X-rays, and then they were less than readable.” The reason? “It was probably a dated piece of equipment, or what have you,” Tomlin said.

Here’s Roethlisberger, who is expected to play against the Patriots this Sunday, on his weekly show on 93.7 The Fan: “The X-ray was inconclusive, I believe, because the machine was old—you’ll have to ask Doc [team doctor James] Bradley. But we never knew until yesterday when I went and got an MRI, that’s when we got officially the word of what it is. But, yeah, we never really knew. But by that time the medicine was kicking pretty good. I told coach, ‘I’ll give you everything I got,’ so I went in there and I tried to give it everything I have.”


As a result, or so the story goes, GM Kevin Colbert and the coaching staff chose to proceed by keeping Roethlisberger on the sidelines unless he’d be needed for what Tomlin described as an “emergency-like situation.” Roethlisberger and Tomlin both likened the scenario to what happened during a playoff game three years against the Bengals. Both Roethlisberger and Tomlin also revealed that Roethlisberger had been given a painkiller, which took some time to take effect.


“Because of lack of information and the situation not being a comfortable or ideal one, we would only re-insert him into the game if we felt it was necessary,” Tomlin said today. “As the game unfolded, obviously, it became necessary.”



Tomlin was also asked during today’s presser whether falling behind created an emergency, even given the lack of information about Roethlisberger’s health. “If we felt like we needed Ben to win the game, we were willing to do it,” he said, before detailing why he brought none of this up during his postgame presser.

“I was not interested in discussing it after the game because I’m not a comfort-seeker; I don’t want to blame others,” Tomlin said. “I don’t care about the equipment, the speed in which the thing transpired, whether or not we were able to read it. That was the same equipment for both teams, et cetera, et cetera. So I said very little after the game. But obviously this [story] has had legs, and it had grown, and we want to minimize the senseless distractions, so I’m being very transparent with you in terms of what transpired, how, and why.”


In conclusion, the Steelers didn’t know how injured Roethlisberger was, but they somehow were confident enough he could return once his pain meds kicked in, if necessary, which turned out to be right after they fell behind, in a game they would lose anyway.


Also, their defense can’t hold a lead and their kicker can’t make a kick. I can’t imagine why their season seems to be falling apart.

Dom Cosentino is a staff writer at Deadspin.

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